The last time I saw Joe Stock was 2001,
when we hauled across Washingtons 44 mile Ptarmigan Traverse
in under 16 hours. I didnt walk right for a week after
Four years later, my memory of that day was veiled with enough
nostalgia for him to sell me on something new. This time Joe
wanted to start skiing from his front door in Anchorage and keep
going until the Chugach Mountains were behind him and The Pipeline
Bar in Valdez finally blocked his way.
We skied out of Anchorage on April 10,
2005 with empty packs. We covered 28 miles that day after 13
hours on the move and arrived at the first of three caches. If
I had known then that this would be the second easiest day of
the traverse, I swear Id have pulled the pin right there
and skied out to Girdwood.
Reality slapped us hard the next day as
we skied from the Crow Pass Cabin with our new 70 pound friends.
My back started to knot up and I feared that this adventure might
come to a premature end by way of a crushed vertebrae, SAT phone
call, and the Air National Guard. But luck was with me and my
back started to loosen up. We ascended the steep Raven Headwall,
skied down the Eagle Glacier, skinned up the Whiteout Glacier
and arrived at Hanss Hut 10 hours later.
Heading up the Marcus Baker Glacier
When the prescription muscle relaxant finally
wore off around noon the following day, Joe and I got moving
again. We shed 6000 feet of elevation in 10 miles and made camp
at Inner Lake George. The lower Whiteout Glacier was broken and
cruxy but, without the use of a rope, it was fast and manageable.
Travel conditions continued to be perfect
for the next couple of days as we cruised past icebergs on Lake
George proper and finally roped up at the toe of the Knik Glacier.
On day five, after nine punishing hours,
we skied up Grasshopper Valley and retrieved our second cache.
Despite being physically exhausted, we
were psyched with our progress. We rested for a day, ditched
some excess food and started up again with full loads. Two days
and 30 miles later, we had crossed the Marcus Baker Glacier and
descended into a five day storm on the Matanuska. Highlights
included 90+ mph winds, 4-5 feet of fresh snow and enough down
time to drive a sloth insane. We festered for 121 hours.
Getting served on
the Matanuska Glacier.........
On the 4th day of the storm, as the weather
continued to rage and the outcome of the trip grew increasingly
questionable, I wrote the following in my journal: Still
whiteout and snow
Lots of snow. Joe is on the outside trying
to move it but it keeps filling us in. Built a huge King-Kong
wall yesterday which is helping but I doubt it would do anything
to protect us from the avalanches and icefall ripping down all
...Definitely starting to get a little
worried about something hitting us from way above. It would suck
to get the chop from an unknown threat lurking 2000 feet up.
After four days crunched in this single-door I Tent, apathy is
starting to take over...
...Bad things happen in the mountains when
youre too lazy to care
But what can we do? Pressure
is sky-rocketing while conditions get worst.
When the weather finally broke on April
23, Joe and I waited for our final cache to be delivered via
air drop and then exploded like a sled dog team starting the
Iditarod. We skied till 11pm that night, crossing Turtle Flats,
and finally calling it quits when we collapsed on the Powell
Glacier. The knee-deep snow, lingering winds, and crushing packs
were a welcome change from the previous week of toiling.
Looking down on the Nelchina Glacier
That night, while Joe was tending the stoves
till one in the morning, he looked at me as I lay broken in my
sleeping bag and said, Ah man, death march from here to
Valdez. I shivered, prayed that he was joking, and drifted
into a fitful sleep. Three and a half days later, we skied down
the Valdez Glacier, stashed our packs in the woods, and hitched
Skiing down to the Nelchina Glacier
A vacationing family from Florida was kind
enough to pick us up. They never asked where wed come from
or what wed been up to. I guess they thought we were your
everyday Alaskan eccentrics out for a walk near the Valdez quarry
and shooting range. As we drove into town, the Chugach mountains,
which wed just spent three weeks skiing across, began to
come into view.
Wow, the peaks around here are awesome,
I blurted out.
Yeah, but you dont wanna go
up in em till the snows gone, said Mom.
Ya see, said Pops spinning
his hands around each other like John Travolta in Saturday Night
Fever, You got this water churning under the snow...
And when it starts to slide,
said Mom in a perfectly choreographed play, Aint
nuthin you can do but pray...